“Chase” Intro to Birds 13~Weeks
So, I introduced Chase, my thirteen week old Black lab from Love’s Kennel in Oregon, to what I hope is the love of his life; birds.
Introducing your “bird dog” to what makes him special from other dogs (the “bird”) is an important event and one that demands deliberate contemplation. True, you have a lot of options in selecting a type of bird to use in this process. You may be tempted to go by a bird preserve (every community seems to have them nowadays) and purchase a pheasant or Chukar. Your thinking could be, ‘that is the birds he is going to be hunting’. But consider this fact; your primary job as a bird dog trainer is to ensure that EVERY experience is a success. Yep, I said every. Like a lawyer who never asks a question he doesn’t already know the answer to, a dog trainer should ALWAYS know his dog is going to succeed. The saying, “Nothing succeeds like success” is truer in bird dog training than anything else I can think.
Although a pheasant is a great bird to hunt with a dog properly prepared to pursue them, they can be damn right intimidating to a young dog. Thus, wait till they have some experience on other birds before throwing them in the ring with a rival of a pheasants merit. Chukar, not a bad choice. A little pricey. But not as intimidating as a pheasant. But I strong Chukar might catch your pup with an explosion of wing beats and send him into a fright. Quail, especially the Coturnix variety are easy for your pup. Unfortunately they can be so easy that they may not move at all. And they are not hardy enough to last more than one good mauling.
For me, this leaves only one bird; the best bird. A pigeon is hearty but not combative. They are cheap to buy. Even if you don’t have a coop (a great thing to have if you can) you can reuse a pigeon several times.
Having just moved into a nice gated community, I do not have a pigeon coop. So I checked out Craigslist and found a guy who would sell me some for $5.00 a piece. I got two to go into a bird cage I was going to keep in the garage. I was going to use these two birds over a four day period to accomplish a few goals. 1. Introduce Chase to his purpose in life. 2. Build some excitement and his innate prey drive. And lastly, maybe, if possible coax a retrieve out of him. To be honest the last one was not really part of a plan. But I would see what happened when I tossed the bird and let him go after it.
Chase has really begun to do the play retrieve well. I can toss the baby bumper out about 30 to 40 feet and he will enthusiastically go get it and return it unless something like a song bird, scent, insect, or sound distracts him. Then all bets are off.
I introduced Chase to these birds in a couple of steps. First, I took him into the garage and let him go smell them in the cage in the garage. I watched his reaction go from cautious to inquisitive to desire. The next morning I took a bird with a rubber band holding its wings to its side and set it in the yard and let Chase walk up to it and investigate. He nudged it, barked at it and mouthed it. All while being praised. I then petted him and praised him till he dropped the bird and took it back to the cage. I did this twice in the same day to ensure he was comfortable with this new element of play.
The third event was more deliberate. I wanted to get him to chase and catch and be excited by a bird that was less restrained.
Now, I am not bragging, but I am a pretty educated guy. I got a PhD. Which means I took two graduate courses in statistics. So… I calculated that putting a three foot piece of para-cord and half a mettle pinch collar I had would allow the pigeon the ability to fly about five or so feet and then be mauled by Chase. I was very pleased with my plan.
Taking Chase and my tethered pigeon into my back yard, I got Chase excited by showing and teasing him with the bird and then tossed it in front of him.
The pigeon, not the least bit impressed with my advanced degrees and calculations, Flew low to the ground and then to my surprise lifting up and circled back over my fence and curved into the yard of my neighbor. I heard the pigeon hit their sliding glass door heading out to their deck. I ran up and jumped in the back of my pickup truck to see over the fence to see my pigeon on their deck.
Now, you may never have had an experience like this. You know, introducing yourself to your new neighbor while asking if you can collect the pigeon who is tied to a cord and a piece of chain from their deck. So, if you hadn’t, let me share; it is not ideal.
My neighbor was good hearted. And allowed me to fetch my bird.
New calculations indicated more of that pinch collar (all of that pinch collar) was going to be needed to actual inhibit full flight.
This time I tossed the bird and he flew about six feet with Chase in hot pursuit. I stood back and offered verbal encouragement and Chase pinned the bird with his front feet and looked back at me. The pigeon struggled and was able to lift up and pivot in the air in a 180 degree circle before the tether brought him down again. This time Chase pinned him down and worked to get his shoulders in his mouth. Chase then turned a came right to me in his first retrieve of a live bird! As embarrassed as I was a few minutes ago, I was now that proud.
We repeated this two more times with lots of praise and loving and then put the bird up. We repeated our bird exercise again later that evening and twice the next day. That bird was then released. I put it in the field and then let Chase run up to it and it left him. I wanted Chase to get the idea that these birds are not always so easy to maul. I assume the Pigeon made its way back to its coop.
The second bird was used the following day. Again the purpose here is to get Chase fired up about birds and awaken his prey drive. Retrieving is a surprise bonus at this stage.
The fourth day of being introduced to birds I let Chase go in the garage and try to get the bird while it was in the cage. He pawed and barked and generally displayed his inner wolf wanting this bird bad. I then moved him out of the garage and waited until later in the day. I then took him into a field near the house and let him watch me put the pigeon out in short grass. I carried Chase out to within 15 yards of the bird and held Chase. He saw the bird and struggled to wanting to charge at it.
I maintained the same tether setup. When I let Chase go he ran right for the bird and the bird flew up the three feet or so it could and tried to avoid this black dog who was trying to catch it with the skill of an African Lion hunting a Gazelle! After a couple of pounces he final got it. He held it down and mouth it for a moment and then proudly walked it back to me.
I praised and petted my pup and then carried him back about 20 yards and put Chase down on the ground and held him. I petted him and talked to him and waited. When the pigeon began trying to fly and let go and again Chase, chased that bird, tackled him in a roll over move and then brought him back to me.
I ended our drills there. I loved my dog up and took him back inside. I decided to keep this bird for some later drill and dispatched the pigeon and put him in the freezer.
I will get back to working on a couple commands with Chase. “Sit” (and stay), “down”, and when 80% good on those then introduce “place” (on a round plywood board). I suspect this will take another week or three to get these done predictable well. Those commands will allow me to start some “Back” commands on a check cord.
I will use pigeons with Chase again right before starting the “Back” commands. Again, just to keep it interesting and his prey drive in gear.
Until I see you in the field, be safe, be good and BE LUCKY!
"Chase" My Newest to-be Hunting Buddy